While e-readers and tablets are very popular, the presence of internet access in public libraries is enabling millions of people to be connected regardless of financial circumstances. In the mid-1990's, only about three in ten libraries had internet access. Today it is nearly universal. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), about one-third of the American population age 14+ accessed the internet at a public library during the recent recession. The IMLS attributes this popularity to the unique role of libraries as a resource that can address both the computing and information needs of a community. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of those surveyed consider web access very important. This importance was particularly high among among women, as well as in the Black and Hispanic population groups. Many individuals access job hunting, benefits, healthcare, financial, and other information this way. In fact, many libraries cannot keep up with the demand for access.
While growing numbers of people are now accessing library tools with smartphones and tablets, it will be interesting to see if pricing of these devices has any impact on the use of public libraries. Overall, contrary to what one might have assumed in the digital age, libraries appear to be growing in importance rather than being in decline and the answer to a recent New York Times debate on whether we still need libraries would be a resounding YES.